Vick, P.E.; Peterson, M.S.; Slack, W.T., and Grammer, P.O., 2018. Occupancy patterns of Gulf Sturgeon, Acipenser oxyrinchus desotoi, associated with Ship Island, Mississippi.
In order to reduce wave energy associated with tropical storms and hurricanes in the western Mississippi Sound, the Mississippi Coastal Improvements Program will close a 5.6 km breach (i.e. Camille Cut) separating East and West Ship Island, Mississippi, and restore sediments to the southern shoreline of East Ship Island. As part of this program, federally designated critical Gulf Sturgeon habitat associated with Ship Island was monitored to establish baseline patterns of use prior to island restoration using a passive acoustic array during overwintering periods from 2011 to 2014. Gulf Sturgeon of both western and eastern populations occupied the passes, cuts, and ends of Ship Island over the study period, but no difference in occupancy was observed among four initially established zones. However, when comparing the new most eastern zone, Dog Keys Pass, to the four initial zones, occupancy was four times greater in this zone than any other monitored zone, indicative of foraging behavior associated with high abundance of benthic resources. Reconnecting East and West Ship Island through filling Camille Cut proper may increase Gulf Sturgeon occupancy in Dog Keys Pass and other areas near the ends and passes of the barrier islands. The loss of Camille Cut proper as critical habitat may be partially augmented by “new” nearshore habitat north and south of Camille Cut; however, it is uncertain whether filling in Camille Cut will alter the physical components of the habitat, causing a shift in benthic prey availability and, thus, quality of forage habitat.